The massacre took place during a Sunday mass, but it was no ordinary Sunday – it was the great feast of Pentecost, which marks the end of the Easter season.
Moreover, the gunmen did not strike in northern Nigeria, where Christian communities are isolated in a predominantly Muslim region. The 30-minute attack took place inside St. Francis Catholic Church, located in the safer southwestern Ondo state.
While 40 worshipers were confirmed dead, including five children, the number was almost certainly higher since many families buried their dead privately. 100 others were injured.
The scope of this attack was “unique”, particularly in southern Nigeria, but “this violence…was not unique in its occurrence”, stressed Stephen Rasche, senior researcher at the Independent Institute for Freedom. nun in Washington, D.C. “These types of murders are taking place every week, almost daily, in Nigeria – killings of innocent Christians, shot, massacred indiscriminately, throughout the north and, increasingly, in the central part of the Nigeria and in the south.
Human rights activists attempt to document the bloodshed. According to the non-denominational watchdog group Open Doors, the 4,650 Christians killed in Nigeria in 2021 accounted for 80% of those deaths worldwide, or nearly 13 killings a day. The Christian death toll in Nigeria has topped 60,000 in the past two decades.
Nevertheless, this year’s report on international religious freedom from the US State Department stated that the “Secretary of State has determined that Nigeria does not meet the criteria to be designated as a country of particular concern for committing or condoning particularly serious violations of religious freedom or as a Country on the Special Watch List for committing or condoning serious violations of religious freedom.
It is understandable that reporting on Nigeria has faded, in part due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and pressing global economic issues, said Rasche, who visited Nigerian churches during this Holy Week and at Easter.
In addition, many Western leaders view the atrocities in Nigeria as clashes between Christian farmers and Muslim cattle herders, with climate change issues erasing safe havens between these groups. Hours after the Pentecost massacre, Irish President Michael Higgins said an attack on “a place of worship is a particular source of condemnation, as is any attempt to scapegoat the pastoral peoples who are among the first victims of consequences of climate change”.
Bishop Jude Arogundade of Ondo Diocese said the words were painful, especially as the attack happened at a shrine built by Irish missionaries. The bishop wrote: “To suggest or establish a link between the victims of terrorism and the consequences of climate change is not only misleading, but also puts salt on the wounds of all those who have suffered terrorism in Nigeria. … The victims of terrorism are of another category to which nothing can be compared!
As these debates rage, Rasche said Christians in Nigeria have continued to plead for help, gathering thousands of photographs and videos as evidence for consideration by government officials, business leaders, religious groups and non-profit organizations.
The bloody realities on the ground in Nigeria “should be news to no one in the State Department, to anyone in the UK Foreign Office, to anyone in the European Union”, he said. “These photos are readily available on social media, and one has to wonder whether or not anyone is actually making an effort to see the truth.”
The stark reality is that Nigeria’s tradition of power sharing between the Muslim North and the Christian South has crumbled in recent years. This is crucial since the country’s population of over 206 million is almost evenly divided between Muslims and Christians.
Nigerian officials have blamed the St. Francis attack on the Islamic State West Africa Province, which has links to the Boko Haram terror group, while avoiding references to Fulani herdsman networks politically. powerful.
In response, Rasche said, many Nigerian Christians “simply give up,” because they no longer trust their own government or the leaders of the United States and the European Union.
“They don’t consider us…to be serious about any of those things,” he said. “They are completely disappointed that the US government has an effective role to play. … They have just given up on anyone in the West coming to their aid.
Terry Mattingly runs GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is a principal investigator at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.